There’s a sure-fire way to become calm, focused and grounded in a hurry. All you need are a few minutes and your two feet.
Think of someone who is calm, centered and focused on clearly defined priorities. We’ll often say they are “grounded.” Or that they have “both feet planted firmly on the ground.” Someone who has their wits about them, remains poised and performs well under pressure is said to be able to “think on their feet.” If they are mentally, emotionally or financially self-sufficient, they are said to be “standing on their own two feet.”
These are not empty metaphors, but are grounded (pun intended) in a very real link between our feet and our ability to focus. We use our feet for far more than walking.
Nearly half of all the sensory information your brain receives comes through your feet. There are over 7,000 nerve endings in the sole of your foot. As well as 26 bones, over 30 joints, and over 100 muscles, ligaments and tendons.
Your feet at every moment are taking in vast sums of information from your environment. They play an outsized role in your sense of balance, orientation in space, and even emotions and mental state. And although not conclusive, some current research suggests that walking barefoot and the heightened sensations your feet experience when you do, can improve sleep, reduce pain and stress, and even help regulate your circulatory, endocrine and nervous systems.
Using Your Feet to Get Calm, Centered and Focused
Even if you’re not the walk-barefoot type, you can use your feet to get focused or to de-stress in a matter of minutes. If you’re feeling a bit untethered, try the following grounding exercise and notice how your mental and emotional equilibrium changes for the better:
1. Close your eyes and gradually breathe more slowly and deeply, ideally inhaling through your nose (you can still benefit by doing this exercise with your eyes open in situations, such as meetings, where you can’t close your eyes; but eyes closed is best when first learning the exercise).
2. Gently allow your awareness to rest on your feet. Notice the feeling in your feet, how tense or relaxed they are, or any other feeling that is there. Notice where the edge of your feet ends and the air in the room begins.
Notice the feeling of the skin on your feet connecting with the air around it. Notice this sensation in each part of your foot – the tops of your feet, the sides, the ankles, the backs, the soles, each toe on all sides of the toe, and the space in between each toe.
3. Allow your awareness to rest on the soles of your feet. Notice the feeling that exists on the bottoms of your feet. Then notice the space that exists between your feet and the ground (ideally this is done barefoot; if you are wearing shoes, notice the space between the bottoms of your feet and where they connect with the insides of your shoes).
4. As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, imagine on each inhale that the breath is actually coming up through the soles of your feet, and then leaving through the soles of your feet on each exhale.
5. Allow the breath to continue from the soles of your feet to fill the space of your feet as if it were a balloon (Yes, I know you actually breathe through your nose and mouth, and the air enters your lungs; just go with it - imagining and feeling as if the air is entering your soles and filling your feet generates a powerful effect).
6. As you continue to breath into and through your feet, allow that sensation to descend into the ground beneath you, creating a mind-breath connection between the insides of your feet and the ground below. Allow that feeling to gradually extend into the ground as far as you can.
7. As you continue to breathe into the ground and through your feet, allow the feeling in your feet to connect to your knees, then to your hips, then stomach, chest, shoulders, throat and head.
At this point allow the breath on the inhale to (imaginarily) come up from the ground, through your feet and from your feet up through your body exiting through the top of your head – the whole time feeling the connection that extends from beneath your feet through the top of your head. Reverse on the exhale, allowing the breath to descend through your feet into the ground.
8. Stay with this last step, or any step in this exercise that resonates with you, for as long as you like.
Once you’ve learned the full exercise, if you’re short on time, or need a “quick fix” during the day, you can simply focus on the soles of your feet, noticing their connection with the ground, and allow your breath to occupy the space between your soles and the ground, fully feeling the sensation of the breath entering the soles of your feet.
An added benefit of learning this exercise: if you have trouble falling asleep, try breathing through your feet for a while. Or try very slowly focusing on the sensation in each part of your foot and on each toe. You’ll likely be asleep within minutes.